NBA: 30 most unguardable moves in league history

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NBA History

NBA History (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The NBA has seen a wide array of deadly moves on the offensive end from its star-level players. 

Roughly 130 years ago, a Canadian physical education teacher named James Naismith invented a silly game in which teams lob a ball into peach baskets to score points. In the time since the game has evolved into an international phenomenon with athletes from the farthest reaches of the world coming together on a massive stage to compete in the National Basketball Association.

The game has evolved quite a bit in that time and by this point, I’m not sure Naismith would fully recognize the game he conceptualized. Today, players are pulling jump shots from anywhere on the court, dribbling the ball at an astonishingly high level and soaring through the air for slam dunks. Even with that being the case, certain moves transcend time.

I’ve combed through NBA history to pick out the 30 most unguardable moves in league history as performed by legendary NBA figures. Please be advised that this list is solely about the moves: Not about the players’ all-time ranking. It’s not a reflection of the league’s best players today or the best players in league history.

First, let’s acknowledge the players and moves that were under consideration, but didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.

Honorable mentions:

  • Larry Bird. I had a really hard time conceptualizing a signature move for Larry Legend, which is more of a reflection of me than it is of him.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge’s post fadeaway
  • Rasheed Wallace’s turnaround jumper
  • Tracy McGrady’s self alley-oop
  • Jason Kidd’s bounce pass
  • Kemba Walker’s stepback
  • Charles Barkley’s putback
  • Moses Malone’s putback
  • Jason Wiliams’ elbow pass
  • Steve Nash’s pocket pass
  • Damian Lillard’s logo shot
  • Pascal Siakam’s spin move (Just kidding)

In most instances, a “move” would imply it’s being executed on the offensive end. Therefore, for the most part, defensive plays aren’t being acknowledged on this list. LeBron’s chase-down may be his signature play, but is it a move? Not really, it’s more an attempt to disrupt someone else’s move. Anyway, let’s get on with it!

Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce

Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)


Paul Pierce - Stepback Jumper

SF, Boston Celtics

30 most unguardable moves in NBA history: 30. Paul Pierce, Stepback jumper

Revisionist history hasn’t been kind to Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce. His post-retirement commentary on television hasn’t helped his case either, but Pierce still deserves plenty of recognition for what he did during his 19-year NBA career.

An offensive specialist with a wide range of tools in his bag, Pierce’s go-to shot was a one-dribble stepback that left countless defenders dumbfounded over the years. It was a simple move that very often began with one powerful dribble toward the paint, faking a drive and forcing his defender to shuffle. Pierce would stop on a dime, take a step back to the opposite side of his dribble to create distance from his defender and pull up with a high-arcing jumper.

Stepback or not, Pierce’s jumper was pure money during his prime. A career 36.8 percent 3-point shooter, the 10-time All-Star had nine seasons shooting at least 38 percent from 3-point land. However, Pierce did have a distinctive proficiency for off-balance and irregular shots, especially in clutch situations. Everything he did was in the spirit of winning and after becoming slightly overrated during his playing days, Pierce has become one of the game’s unsung heroes and a legend of the sport.

Paul Pierce and his immaculate stepback deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

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